Young People, Corruption, and Employment in Zimbabwe.

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The 11th of July marked the African Anti-Corruption Day and the year 2018 has been declared by the African Union as the Anti-Corruption Year running with the theme “Winning the Fight Against Corruption: A Sustainable Path to Africa’s Transformation. It is perhaps important to question the reception of this seemingly perfect agenda by young people who constitute the largest demographic group in Africa. Young people have been described as Africa’s greatest asset and indeed they are. The African Development Bank (AFDB) notes that if properly harnessed, Africa the increase in the working age population could support increased productivity and more inclusive economic growth across the continent. Renowned Zimbabwean economist Professor Mthuli Ncube in an article entitled Africa Harnessing the demographic dividend[1]argues that investments into Africa’s youth will contribute towards sustainable development, inclusive economic growth and to build an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa. Along with many other like-minded economists, Ncube notes the importance of creating jobs for young people as a precondition to Africa ‘s sustainable path to transformation. According to the International Labour Office’s Global Employment Trends for Youth (2015) youth comprised 48,1 % of the long-term unemployed in sub-Saharan Africa. Professor Ncube in his article argues that this high unemployment figure represents a significant lost potential to realize Africa’s demographic dividend. It is worth mentioning that existing e policy narratives on how Africa should unleash its demographic dividend tend to negate and undermine the impact of corruption on Africa’s labour market. Again l will make reference to Mthuli Ncube article and in this article he identifies some of the factors challenging the employment of Africa’s youth and these include  “deindustrialization occurring in many sectors as production becomes increasingly automated; a higher demand for design skills than for manufacturing skills; the mismatch between the skills on offer and the requirements of employers; and the drain on skilled talent suited for the needs of industry across Africa.

It occurs to me that corruption seems to occupy a peripheral role in this assessment of challenges affecting the employment of Africa’s youth. It is against this backdrop that l developed this article. I am motivated by these two fundamental questions i.e.(i) on the extent to which the endemic corruption in Africa will impede the transformative agenda through denying Africa’s young people access to already existing jobs and (ii) whether there is a realization by African leaders on the impact of corruption of Africa’s labor market where millions of young men and women are expected to make a meaningful contribution? I possess no definite answer to these questions and my modest contribution is that of sparking debate and dialogue around this.  I note with concern that jobs are scarce in Africa and the demand is high. Normatively when goods and services (jobs being one of the services) are scarce and demand is high, opportunities for rent-seeking behaviour do naturally arise. In this article l provide evidence on the dynamics around corruption, youth and employment in Zimbabwe. The article is informed by a study by Transparency International on Corruption and Cultural Dynamics in Zimbabwe. I also refer to findings from a study conducted by Corruption Watch in South Africa.

African reality – Youth population, Unemployment and Corruption

It is estimated that by 2030 the number of youths in Africa will have increased by 42 per cent[2]. Africa’s youth population is expected to continue to grow throughout the remainder of the 21st century, more than doubling from current levels by 2055[3]. By inference young people now as in the future will remain the largest demographic group to suffer from the harsh calamities of the endemic corruption embedded in the African political, social and economic relations. By marking 2018 as an Anti-Corruption Year running with this theme Winning the Fight Against Corruption: A Sustainable Path to Africa’s Transformation, it is a clear articulation and indication that corruption is not only perverse in Africa but it’s also huge causality of the underdevelopment, rising inequality and poverty levels in the continent. Corruption in Africa is thus one of the major impediments to structural transformation[4]. The various global corruption indices[5]have portrayed Africa countries as highly corrupt[6]. Bribery is one of the common forms of corruption that is perverse on this continent of ours. The 2015 Afro barometer found that 22 % of Africans who came into contact with a public service in the past 12 months paid a bribe[7]. I have done various corruption studies in Zimbabwe since 2012 and l have learnt that likewise, bribery is an everyday reality in Zimbabwe. Its pervasive nature in Zimbabwe just like in other countries like Liberia is explained also by the abundance of local slang terms in Shona and Ndebele used to justify and disguise it[8]. This is indeed a worrying picture for Africa, even more worrying when one considers the possible impact of corruption on Africa’s labour market.  Unemployment among young people aged 15–24 years old in sub-Saharan Africa has hovered between 12% and 14% since the global financial crisis of 2008[9]. According to the Africa Development Bank of Africa’s nearly 420 million youth aged 15-35, one-third are unemployed and discouraged, another third are vulnerably employed, and only one in six is in wage employment. In Zimbabwe, the unemployment rate is around 90% and young people constitute a huge group of the unemployed[10].

The International Labor Organization (ILO) World Employment and Social Outlook (2016) notes that with a youth population that is expected to double, to over 830 million, by 2050 in the whole continent, the incidence of unemployment among youth in Northern Africa remains elevated at 29.3 per cent in 2016, representing the second highest rate across all regions[11]. Perhaps from this data, it is critical to ask ourselves as Africans on the possible impact of corruption on Africa’s labour market. It is saddening to note that current narratives on anti-corruption, economic growth as well as young people and their critical role in Africa’s transformation negates and fails to recognize the impact of corruption on the African labour market and especially on the youthful workforce. As such there seem to be a gap in the literature on corruption and Africa’s labour market. An empirical study by Bouzid (2016) on the Dynamic relationship between Corruption and Youth Employment[12]brought to fore evidence that shows that rent-seeking behaviour among government officials when granting the public good (e.g., job opportunity in the public sector) increases the unemployment rate among young and educated job seekers. Bouzid (2016) in this study also noted that in the absence of efficient control and monitoring mechanisms, the proliferation of those practices forces a growing segment of the workforce either to join the crowd and pay the price to secure a job or to be left out of the official labor market and turn to the informal sector

Realities of young men and women in Zimbabwe on corruption and employment

In 2017 l had the privilege of leading a research team in collecting and analyzing data for the Corruption and Culture study under TI Z. We conducted more than 10 Focus Group Discussions in Harare, Bulawayo and Mutare. Purposively we choose to conduct a number of these FGDs with young people. From these FGDs, I noted how a notable number of respondents (young men and women in particular) narrated to us a worrying lived reality and experience with corruption in the employment sector. A number of these respondents narrated to us how corruption in Zimbabwe has become a huge determinant of employability. I learnt that getting employed in Zimbabwe is no longer a function of a set of skills that one has but his or her ability to either grease the palms of the employer or being connected those with influence.

Most respondents gave various examples of how it was difficult to get a job without agreeing to a corruption deal with the recruiter or the employer. Jobs are generally scarce in Zimbabwe and getting employed in the current environment is a priceless opportunity one respondent said. A more worrying picture was that of public and private institutions such as teacher training colleges, nursing schools and even the police. One female respondent from Mutare narrated how it was difficult if not impossible to get a place at institutions such as the nursing school, teachers’ college and even the police without bribing someone. The same story was narrated by another respondent from Bulawayo who said “for you to get a place at a nursing school you have to pay $ 500.00. Another respondent said

having qualifications is not enough mudhara (elder) there a number of people out there with qualifications. You need money to get a place at a nursing school, teaching school or for you to get recruited by the Police

There was some convergence on the figure one should pay to get a placement either at a nursing school or teachers’ college and the amount ranges from $300 to $500. I also learnt that in other extreme cases employees would get a job through agreeing to a secret contract with the recruiting supervisor where the employee would remit a certain percentage every month to the recruiting supervisor for a defined time period. Respondents shared with us a number of companies where job recruiters and supervisors were demanding kickbacks and bribes from job seekers. A number of such companies are in the fast food business.

This is indeed a worrying picture for Africa. A study by Corruption Watch South Africa refers to the same worrying reality among young South Africans. Out of over 6,000 respondents between the ages of 14 and 34 who participated in the survey, seven in 10 admitted to having been affected by corruption in some way or another[13]. About 26% of respondents claimed that they were denied basic services because of corruption in their areas, and 22% claimed that corruption affected their employment prospects[14]. As of 2014, Corruption Watch had received over 300 complaints alleging corruption in employment since the organization was launched in 2012[15]. It would be naïve to assume that young men and women in Africa are affected by employment-related corruption in the same way. From the FGDs we conducted l noted how young women in Zimbabwe suffer more from the brunt of corruption in the employment sector. We listened to narrations of various young women some of whom have been asked to trade sex and sexual favours in return for jobs. Most respondents from Bulawayo narrated how this was a common occurrence in the fast food industry again where a number of young women are employed as till operators[16]. The International Association of Women Judges has called this form of corruption – sextortion meaning the abuse of power to obtain a sexual benefit or advantage. We noted that again there are slang terms being used to describe this form of corruption and some of the slang terms used include number 11, gumbo, and kuzunza musika

Non-reporting nature of Zimbabwe Youths

We asked respondents why they would not report such forms of corruption. I knew for sure that within TI Z Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre one of the departments that l manage we have very limited cases of corruption in the employment sector. One female respondent summed it well when she said

Why would you report when everyone else is doing it? Besides once you report, you lose the opportunity and you die with your poverty

This response brings to fore two interesting nuances on corruption in Zimbabwe. The first dimension is what we have referred to as the collective action and mentality in the 2017 Corruption and Culture study. We noted that corruption forms that are often committed by the generality of the population (bribery being the main form) are least reported because it has become normal hence more acceptable. Such forms of corruption as bribing has become a norm in Zimbabwe and it explains why in our lingo we have created new terms and especially slang[17]related to morally legitimize and also disguise the corruption act. Back to corruption in the employment sector, corruption in this sector is least reported if reported at all because it has become a norm. Everyone is doing it so why report.

The other dimension l picked from the above quote from our respondent is what we referred to as beneficial corruption in the Corruption and Culture study report. We noted that corruption forms benefitting both parties are not only least reported by also morally justified. In the Corruption and Culture study by TI Z, we gave our respondents a series of morality scenarios. In one of the scenarios, we sought to understand whether it was morally correct or not to get a job by knowing someone or. From this scenario, we observed that a huge number of respondents (more than 105 respondents) indicated that it was morally correct to get a job by knowing someone. Some justified it arguing that it was taking advantage of the social capital base and networking relations. Others justified this through citing the idiom Chawawana idya nehama mutorwa ane hanganwa directly meaning share opportunities with your relatives and friends as strangers would return the favour to you. Other respondents indicated chizivano chiri kwose muZimbabwe meaning nepotism is everywhere in Zimbabwe. Again, this the collective action.

I also noted even those who said it was morally incorrect there would provide reasons in support of getting a job through knowing someone. Again, my interpretation is that jobs are scarce in Zimbabwe and the scarcity makes the demand to be high hence job seekers become easily corruptible.  Bouzid 2016 cited above made the same conclusion and argues that in the absence of efficient control and monitoring mechanisms, the proliferation of those practices forces a growing segment of the workforce either to join the crowd and pay the price to secure a job or to be left out of the official labor market and turn to the informal sector. Anthropologist Chiweshe[18](2016 and 2018) (my research mentor) argues that bribery is a part of everyday life in Zimbabwe[19]and as such most Zimbabweans in the informal sector bribe to make a living. In the TI Z Corruption and Culture study, we noted how Zimbabweans in the informal sector opt to bribe to protect and safeguard their livelihood sources such as cross-border trading, vending, commuter omnibus business inter alia[20].

Policy responses

As a Pan African anti-corruption practitioner l believe the long-term solution to corruption in Zimbabwe lies in formulating a National Anti-Corruption Strategy that is responsive to corruption realities and experiences of young people among many other demographic groups. While the new political administration in Zimbabwe has introduced a number of anti-corruption policies, all such policies won’t deliver for as long as they do not respond to such corruption realities and experiences. In essence, there is a huge danger and likelihood that such policy actions are not in sync with everyday experiences of the ordinary Zimbabweans, young people in particular.

The starting point, therefore, is a citizen-driven National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACs) in Zimbabwe. This strategy should recognize the importance of investing in cultural change as a means towards the reduction of corruption in Zimbabwe. We have a corruption culture in Zimbabwe (see the TI Z Corruption and Culture study) that has been made possible by the state of the economy and our political relations.

Again, the National Anti-Corruption Strategy if its citizen-driven and supported, it will definitely recognize the need and importance of making compliance less costly and less cumbersome. When compliance is costly, bribery becomes seemingly cheaper especially when time and money is concerned.

More so such a strategy should recognize the need for our institutions for reporting corruption to be gender sensitive.  Currently, such institutions as the police have a masculine outlook. We noted that the survivors/victims of sextortion are not comfortable reporting sextortion to a male police officer.

More so beyond the outlook of reporting institutions, the NACs should recognize to the need to build the capacity of reporting institutions such as ZACC and the police so that they can respond effectively to subtle and complex forms of corruption.

Lastly, such a strategy should recognize the need and importance of a National Dialogue on Ethics and Integrity in Zimbabwe.

I take pride in mentioning that TI Z is investing towards the development of such a NACs. The United Nation Convention Against Corruption under Article 9 calls upon State parties, Zimbabwe being one, to formulate and monitor implementation of Anti-Corruption Strategy or Policy. Our neighbours South Africa have developed a contextually relevant NACs. The absence of such will make complex forms of corruption such as extortion and corruption in the employment sector to thrive and flourish and yet still remain unreported. If the voice of the people if the voice of God as the current President has said, then give Zimbabweans a voice to fight corruption through a NACs.





[4]Measuring Corruption in Africa: The international dimension matters, Africa Governance Report IV UNECA 2016

[5]  The corruption Indices includes the Corruption Perceptions Index and Global Corruption Barometer by Transparency International, the Worldwide Governance Indicators by the World Bank), the Global Integrity Index by Global Integrity and the Index on African Governance by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation

[6]. I have chosen not to concentrate much on how African countries are scored on such Indices simply there is a growing concern on the validity of these Indices. See the Measuring Corruption in Africa: The international dimension matters, Africa Governance Report IV UNECA 2016

[7]According to TI nearly 75 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa are estimated to have paid a bribe in the past year – some to escape punishment by the police or courts, but many forced to pay to get access to the basic services that they desperately need.

[8]2017 Corruption and Culture Study, Transparency International Zimbabwe




[12]Bouzid. B (2016) Dynamic relationship between Corruption and Youth Employment, Empirical Evidences from a System of GMM Approach. Policy Research Working Paper 7842, World Bank





[16]TI Z under its Coalition Against Rampant Corruption Project II is preparing to respond to this form of corruption in Zimbabwe which has gone on for years unabetted

[17]In the 2017 TI Z Corruption and Culture Report, there is  long list of such terms in Shona and Ndebele that describe corruption in general and bribery in particular.

[18]I take pride in mentioning that Dr Chiweshe is one of my research mentors.



[20]I write about this at length in my upcoming paper on Choiceless Choices: Structurally coerced into Corruption where l argue that the political and economic system that we have has made most people corrupt, not by choice by structural coercion

Farai Mutondoro is a governance, democracy, human rights and policy expert with over 7 years’ experience in the nonprofit sectors of livelihoods, natural resource governance, service delivery, transparency and accountability and anti-corruption. He has experience in strategy review and implementation, project and programme design, implementation and management, risk analysis as well as developing communication and information materials such as policy briefs, media statements, fact sheets info graphics and videos. Farai has managed various governance studies assessing the drivers, impact and extent of corruption on key sectors to the Zimbabwean political economy such as mining, land, state-owned enterprises, service delivery and climate finance. Farai is also a good presenter and training expert having presented and facilitated dialogue at such national, regional and international platforms as the 2015, 2016 and 2017 World Bank Land and Poverty Conference, 2017 Australia Africa Research Forum, 2017 Namibia Anti-Corruption Commission Extractive Industry Strategic Review, Zimbabwe Parliamentary Committee Trainings on Transparency and Accountability well as the International Anti-Corruption Conference.

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